According to the advanced English Dictionary one of the definitions of EVIL is “that which causes harm or destruction or misfortune” This is what some residents of Keta, Anloga and neighboring towns and villages in the Volta Region of Ghana feared will befall their area if Petroleum exploration and possible production are undertaken in the Keta Basin.
They claimed their livelihood and the environment will be destroyed if petroleum operation is undertaken onshore. They described the project which covers about three thousand square kilometers from Ada to Aflao as “evil” and petitioned government to abrogate it.
Led by the Keta Vegetable Farmers and Marketers Association and the Centre for Natural Resources and Environmental Management, a local NGO, the residents recently took to the streets in war regalia to protest against petroleum exploration in the area.
The main Contractor undertaken the exploration works in the basin, Swiss African Oil Company however termed the project as “good and holy” and has the potential of transforming the local economy if oil is discovered in commercial quantities. Minimum expenditure for the initial three years exploration period is about forty-eight million dollars.
Even though it is an established fact that the Keta basin has crude oil and gas, none of the exploration activities over the years yielded petroleum in commercial quantities. With advancement in exploration technology it is believed new exploration could yield results.
With high level of hope government in 2016 signed an onshore and offshore exploration agreement with the Ghana National Petroleum Corporation, Swiss African Oil Company and Pet Volta Investments to prospect for oil in the Basin.
In the agreement Swiss African Oil Company has 83 percent shares, GNPC 12 percent and Pet Volta Investments has five percent. The contract was renegotiated and finalized when the present government took over the reign of the country.
The agitators in the 685 square kilometer allocated block which span from Ada to Aflao are protesting against onshore oil exploration in the basin. They argued that onshore petroleum operation in the area which hosts a Ramsar site will negatively affect their livelihood and damage the environment.
Roland Tudzi, Chairman of Keta Vegetable Farmers and Marketers Association and member of the Centre for Natural Resources and Environmental Management said for about five hundred years their great grandfathers and fathers lived around the Basin and they derived their livelihood from the lagoon.
“If they are coming to explore oil, you know how devastating the situation will be. Oil spill will naturally come and when it comes the water bodies will be polluted and all aquatic lives will be extinct,” He lamented.
In addition, he explained that “We are farmers here and we use underground water for farming and if they come to explore oil they will use chemicals and that will definitely pollute the underground water too. It means we will have nothing left for us and so we have that fear that if this is allowed to continue the result will be very devastating and we cannot survive here any longer.”
Mr. Tudzi stated that they may be forced to relocate, which they will not accept. “We wish to maintain and protect the environment for our children and our great grandchildren to also come and enjoy. We can get a lot of livelihood from the lagoon and the little piece of land we have than what we can get from the oil.” Chairman Tudzi wished.
Responding to the assertion that petroleum exploration and possible production will give jobs to the people he said, “Considering the profession of the people here and their academic background and their social background I don’t know the kind of job our people can get.”
Oil exploration he noted is very technical and needs technical brains, well trained artisans to engage in it. “We don’t have those people here and it means that there will be the influx of foreigners. And when foreigners come around here the harm will be more. Accommodation, their social interaction with the people, feeding and everything will go up and the next thing you will see is that there will be a lot of prostitution.”
Niger Delta case
Mr. Tudzi cited the mess caused by oil production in the Niger Delta in Nigeria where the whole place is polluted with high level of militancy and social vices. “The people cannot survive in their own natural environment. They had to be relocated. We want to live on our own land here.”
He claimed “The oil exploration is evil. Yes it is.” “We don’t want to wait, you see when you see your neighbor’s beard is being burnt, you have to make sure you get water around so that when it happens to you, you can quench it. We don’t want the havoc to start before we think of finding remedy for it.”
Sacrifice for national good
Responding to a question on the need for the residents to sacrifice their land as has been done in mining communities for government to generate revenue for national development, Mr. Tudzi explained that the places where people have sacrificed; they have vast stretch of lands. However land in Anloga and its environs are very small with a very high concentration of people. “If we are to sacrifice, it means we will be relocated, that is our main concern not that we want to deny government sources of revenue.
The agitators have filed their concerns in the Supreme Court seeking the Court to abrogate the agreement. “We have enumerated all that we expect the government to do for us and the court will go through our concerns and find out whether what we are saying is good or not, then the court will pass the judgement.”
According to the protestors the law and conventions were breached in giving out the contract. They indicated that even though the Constitution of Ghana says that if there is any mineral on any land the mineral belongs to the State, if government wants to take the land the occupant or the owner of the land must be consulted.
“It is not a matter of just saying that there is oil here okay we are coming to explore, you people move out. No! That is injustice. That is why we have gone to the Supreme Court to find out if there is justice been done or not. They should abrogate it now and forever.” Mr. Tudzi avers.
The demonstrators already served notice of going to the International Court to seek redress if the Supreme Court rules in favour of government and the companies.
A Former Municipal Chief Executive for the Keta Municipal Assembly and Patron of the Keta Vegetable Farmers and Marketers Association Edward Kofi Ahiabor explained that in geological term a basin means something that collects water, noting that Keta basin collects run off water all the way from the republic of Togo and from Ho, the Volta regional capital.
Apart from that he stated that there are three underground fresh water aquifers in the area and there is a fourth aquifer which is saline. He said if drilling is done in one of the aquifers where it takes its source any leakage will flow down and get to the basin and contaminate the whole area.
“This is the reason why most of us are afraid that wherever they will site an oil well, there will definitely be horizontal flow of chemicals that they will be using and the chemicals will by all means leak and contaminate the fresh water system. The fresh water bodies you see around here some flow into River Volta. It means that in the near future our water sources, the drinking ones, the ones we have been using for farming will all get contaminated.”
Aside from the possible contamination, Mr. Ahiabor sermonized “Keta basin has been designed by God for aqua-culture that is why we have three water aquifers and a saline one. Research by the Oceanography Department of University of Ghana has shown that if government invests in shrimp farming that will rake in more money over a long period than the amount of oil that will be drilled from this area. So why go into oil drilling which has a short life-span and not fish farming which will be forever.”
On whether there has been engagement with the community on the contract Mr. Ahiabor said there were some meetings but very shallow.
“At a point in time they didn’t even tell the people that they were going to do onshore exploration everything was about off shore. These are things that technical people in the Ministry should know.”
“Go in for the oil and disturb the whole environment or go in for shrimp farming. Shrimp culture I bet you it will bring in more revenue to government than this evil thing they want to do. Yes! It is evil. Evil, because, Ghana Government is a signatory to the Ramsar Convention, which does not allow things of this nature to happen in a Ramsar site. This is why we are calling it an evil contract. We will have to fight and we will continue to fight until the right thing is done.” He battled.
Are powerful people behind the dissenters?
Mr. Ahiabor claimed no individual or company is backing them to agitate against the project. “We are very powerful ourselves, so why should we go to another person for training or for support. As a former MCE for Keta I know what is good for my people. I know what will destroy us and so I must put down my feet and fight for them. We have not sent boys to Nigeria or anywhere for training to be militants. We will jaw-jaw and we are even in court over the issue.
He said instead of technocrats at the ministries coming together to look at their concerns holistically and come out with what is best for the area government is just going for what will bring in money very quickly.
Oil Company’s response
The Director of Public Relations at the Swiss African Oil Company Mensah Peter Dagbui said there were stakeholders’ consultations in the communities at strategic zones within the block in 2016.
He stated that after the stakeholders meeting the partners engaged the Environmental Protection Agency though a consultant to conduct a study and produce a scoping report that will deal with issues concerning the environment and how to tackle those issues. The EPA report he explained is is even ready. The next line of action is to go back to the communities with the issues and discuss how to address them in collaboration with the people.
“Unfortunately we haven’t done that then all of a sudden the vested interest of the NGO in the area without even having any interaction with us started bringing a lot of issues. These issues are bordering very much on exploitation (production), meanwhile we are doing exploration.”
First it should be exploration after the exploration then the various agencies with the company will discuss any identified challenges and how to address them including which technology to use in the production process.
“We have not gotten to that stage then the people jumped in, saying we are going to do fracking, we are coming to spoil the environment and that they will be relocated. They were virtually beating war drums. During the demonstration the people were beating war drums because they were dressed in war regalia and when you are going to war in Anlo the songs that you sing were the songs they were singing. That means the war is on and that is the picture they have painted. Pouring libation that if these people are searching for oil they should not get it. Oh! This is the country in which we live.” Mr. Dagbui vexed.
The PR Director said the technology to be used for the entire process if oil is discovered in commercial quantities is yet to be decided. The decision on the type of technology to use will be taken by the Company, GNPC, EPA and Petroleum Commission jointly. “We have the offshore and the onshore so we have to look at the two scenarios and see which is possible to do without touching the issues that will impact the livelihood and the environment.
He is however not sure whether the fracking technology which the people dread will be used. He said the company’s technical experts will later announce the method that will be used.
Mr. MP Dagbui said historically there were some legacy petroleum drillings in the Keta basin but they did not cause any spillage and they did not affect the people’s livelihood. He mentioned oil exploration activities in 1966 at Atiavi, 1967 at Angloga, 1970 in Keta, 1973 at Dzita and 1986 at Seva.
“Those days we were still fishing. We were still farming.We were still drinking water from the river. It is a holy project good for us, good for the government and good for all stakeholders.” Mr. Dagbui asserted.
Benefits of the project to the area
“It is going to create jobs, direct and indirect jobs.” The Swiss African Oil Company PR Director MP Dagbui noted that even though a lot of people will be falling out because they don’t have the expertise to work at the top level they will get work at the lower levels as the project progresses.
He said the project will change the local economy saying there will be positive influence on the stuck poverty in the area.
“Don’t forget government is saying it is going to use a certain percentage of the resources that is coming (from petroleum production) to support our Free Senior High School programme. We have a lot of schools in the Municipality. There are about sixteen Senior High schools in the area, are they also not going to benefit?” Mr Dagbui alluded.
“So, do we have resources over there and then we say ours should not be used but any other regions should provide resources for development but not ours. if we have the resources, is a governmental issue.”
He stressed that the operation will benefit the present generation and the generation to come adding that the fishing will still co-exist with the oil, “it will coexist.”
Reacting to the fear that what happened in the Niger Delta case could occur in the Basin he said they need to explain to the people how it happened. What actually caused the spillage? He stated that his company and partners can learn from the experience in the Niger Delta and incorporate lessons in their operations to avert the occurrence in the Keta Basin.
Also, responding to the fact that the people have sued government seeking for the abrogation of the contract Mr. Dagbui said to the best of his knowledge the company has not been served with any Court case. “We consulted our lawyer and he said he has not been served.”
“I think it is too early to be talking about court because the company has not infringed upon any regulation so far.” He argued.
He stated that it is the Attorney General who will have to respond to the claims of the people in court. The PR Director reveals that the Swiss African Oil Company did not design the contract. “Those who designed the contract will respond positively to all the issues that they are raising and that is government and not Swiss African Oil Company.”
“We will be doing the explanation and they will go with us. One day they will tell the people who are against the project today that they have nearly made a sad mistake by saying this is an evil project. It is going to be a holy project for our people. If we don’t get it thus it, we haven’t got it but if we get it is going to transform the area- the local economy.”
He said he doesn’t anticipate that government will abrogate the contract, saying the company has not done anything wrong.
Mr. Dagbui assured that the company means well for the area and is looking forward to a day when the whole area will be transformed as a result of this investment.
“Our project will reduce poverty and we need to assure our people that whatever they are doing currently, they will continue doing those activities. THE PROJECT IS NEVER EVIL, IS NEVER EVIL.” The PR Director allays the people’s fear. (Read contract agreement here)
Seth Yormewu, the Keta Municipal Chief Executive, MCE said after receiving the people’s petition he forwarded it to the Volta Regional Minister Dr. Archibald Letsa for onward transmission to the Presidency. “That is how it should work. I know by now it has to be with the presidency. That is what we have done so far.”
He stated that studies have shown that there is oil in the Keta Basin and presently the GNPC’s vessel is in the sea doing exploration. The MCE said the people are making a lot of claims in their petition particularly about onshore exploration. “Those things need to be verified to see if they are true or not before we also come to conclusion.”
He said Government will take a look at their concerns as stated by the Ministry of Energy in a statement.
He observed that the problem is about education noting that the previous government started the education but the education didn’t go down well with the people thus why those things are happening.
“We need development and we know that if they explore oil in Keta it is going to open the place economically. We are presently talking about having a port here and if they explore oil here we will get the port because the oil will have to be transported on the sea to the international market. I know that the current government will come to educate the people.”
He explained that he, in his capacity as the MEC has already started “negotiating” with the agitators to get them to understand the issues so that their concerns will not be blown out of proportion. He said the people should not send signals that the entire residents are not in favour of the project.
“The oil project is very important to the development of the Municipality.” “I will not advise government to abrogate the contract. Abrogation of the contract will not be in the best interest of the area. If you do that we cannot develop.” Mr. Yormewu pointed out.
On whether he was worried about the development against petroleum activities in the area, Mr.Yormewu said “We are in a democratic country and we believe in rule of law everybody has the right to go on demonstration so far as they have pass through the due process, I am not worried at all because in democracy those things ought to be happening so that we know that our laws are working. I am not all that perturbed about it.”
The MCE assured that government will not encourage exploration of oil in the area and at the end the livelihood of the people will be destroyed. “They should remain calm and support this government to achieve whatever we want to achieve for the Keta Municipality and the country as a whole.”
Clement Kofi Humado, Member of Parliament for Anlo who was among the six MPs in the affected area who “passed” the agreement for approval by the President explained that the agreement clearly states that there is an exploration stage as well as production and development stages.
He reiterated that the Constitution of Ghana states that minerals belong to the state not to any ethnic group. In view of that even though the people have genuine concerns, they do not have the scientific facts to base those concerns on unless exploration is done.
It is only exploration that can tell us whether the oil is there in commercial quantities or it is there and it is more in the sea than onshore. “Even if it is onshore where specifically and the agreement makes provision that as soon as those results are gathered there will be a full public hearing and consultations led by the EPA where we shall all use the results of the exploration to see whether we should go forward or not. If we have to go forward what technologies should they use so that it does not affect the people negatively. Even if we have to go ahead will it displace communities, will it affect their livelihoods? That is where the proper decision will be taken.”
Mr. Humado stated that if the agitators feel so strongly about the fact that exploration too can create problems then they should find appropriate ways of raising the issues to government not by demonstration or suing government because the oil is not for any individual according to the constitution.
“That kind of aggressive way I was not for it that is why the people were angry with me. All that I am saying should not be misconstrued that I am in favour of oil and gas operation in the area to destroy our environment. I am a scientist if I don’t see evidence I don’t want to take a decision. I am just saying that we should adopt the proper approach and procedures to solve this problem.”
The Anlo lawmaker said he will also not personally accept a situation where oil and gas activities will force him to move from his hometown Alakple. “To where? Or that the shrimp farming I am doing I should stop. No! It wouldn’t happen. If it comes to that one I will tell them that I will also not agree.” He stated.
Mr. Humado said he has no evidence to argue for or against the project and entreated the aggrieved indigenes to wait for the exploration results for the final decision to be taken.
He however observed that some citizens in other parts of the country have agreed for their areas to be used for gold, diamond mining, timber logging etc, and the revenues from those activities go into national budget to be used for the benefit of the whole country.
He noted that it is unfortunate that when it comes to the Keta Basin people are demonstrating and suing government for the contract to be abrogated.
“We should not project ourselves to the rest of the country as if we are selfish. We have a case but let us not use those means.”
“There will be a lot of benefits,” he believes. “There will be a new harbor in the area; there will be industries like welding, foundry, transportation, hospitality, catering, supply of food etc . The MP reveals that a minimum of three thousand people will be employed in the oil industry if the project is carried through in the Basin.”
“There is nothing in the World that you gain without risk. You have to take calculated risk before you can gain something,” Mr. Humado philosophized.
Whether evil or holy, serious engagement with the communities in the oil block is advised. As the Keta MCE pointed out abrogating the contract may not be in the interest of the area.